True, the basic unit of conversation is still the clever quip, and relentless bantering can make the characters sound shallow rather than brightly combative; the heroine says of the baby she's adopted that "there's a little cellulite on the toes but by the time she's 20 they'll be doing toe tucks at Elizabeth Arden." Yet,the spirit of the piece is supple and appealing.
Jumping about in time between Chicago in 1965, with Heidi at her first high school dance, and New York in 1989, when Heidi, now an art professor, opts for single adoptive motherhood, the play charts the fortunes of the Baby Boomer generation from the hey- day of Sixties radicalism through the disenchantments of the Seventies and the cyncism of the Eighties.
There's a wry affection as well as an alertness to the ridiculous in Wasserstein's writing. She refuses to disown or act superior to the experiences that have shaped her - unlike some of Heidi's friends, such as the once-militant feminist turned West Coast executive producer who winds up commissioning vacuous sitcoms about tough girls on the town. What oppresses Heidi is the increasing competitiveness among women. It's as if they have copied the worst aspects of men: "I thought the point was that we were all in this together," she tells an alumnae group.
But the play never really questions whether the envy of the young may not play a part in these feelings. In certain respects, having Susannah Harker play Heidi renders her predicament harder to understand. Radiantly pretty and English-looking, her bland, blonde lustre apparently undimmed by the passage of some 24 years, she seems too conventionally attractive for a character who would make more sense if her physical charms were less obvious. Charlie Edwards and Peter Polycarpou are both excellent as the two men who recur in her life, respectively a gay paediatrician and a radical lawyer who sells out and starts publishing a glossy magazine called Boomer. The need for an upbeat ending (Ms Wasserstein is no Caryl Churchill) dictates that there should be hints of resurgent political idealism in the lawyer and that Heidi should have a baby. She holds the infant out and declares: "a heroine for the millennium". Talk about parental pressure; this child, one assumes, is already in therapy.
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